REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio – It began shortly after the new year in 2003 and by March, more than a dozen horses at the University of Findlay stables were dead.
Nobody knew what was killing them, how they contracted the deadly disease, or what could be done to stop it.
Findlay’s equine business manager Dave Duncan initially told Farm and Dairy the disease outbreak hit “hard and fast” and the horses’ health deteriorated quickly. He and the students could do nothing to stop it.
Quarantine. Forty-five of the 138 horses stabled at the school developed some type of neurologic deficits after being stricken by the disease, forcing Duncan to quarantine the facility.
Discovery. In mid-2003, veterinary virologist Yan Zhang of the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory identified the biological agent responsible for the mysterious outbreak.
The disease agent was identified within 24 hours from receiving samples from Findlay as a new, highly pathogenic form of equine herpes virus.
Zhang’s findings are regarded as a significant veterinary discovery. He’s got a patent pending on the discovery, a first for a regulatory agency.
About the virus. Clinical signs of the equine herpes virus strain are an upper respiratory infection, including a cough, depression, poor appetite and nasal discharge.
Other neurological signs include fever and incoordination. In extreme cases, the horse is unable to stand, has swelling of the limbs and small hemorrhages on the gums.
The virus may also result in abortion in pregnant mares and death.
No vaccination is available for the neurologic strain that hit the Findlay horses, but herpes virus vaccines are available for other strains.
Diagnosis. The quick diagnosis was made possible through polymerase chain reaction, an advanced molecular technology used by the department of agriculture.
“This goes above and beyond the scope of our regulatory duties, so it is an exciting milestone for our department,” said Fred Dailey, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
“It well represents the caliber of our scientists and the quality of work at the [animal disease lab.]”
Patent. The department hopes to patent the method for identifying the virus and for producing a vaccine, which will protect the state’s interest in any commercially developed process or product.
The U.S. Patent Office received the final patent application Dec. 29, 2004, and it could take as long as a year and a half for final approval.
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